Just when we thought we could forget everything we know about both the failure of communism and the Cyrillic alphabet, we went to see The Color of the Chameleon, part of this year's New Directors / New Films series. This Bulgarian movie uses a gorgeous, super-stylized palette to explore the act of informing in the period around the fall of communism.
Orphan Batko Stamenov (Ruscen Vidinliev, above) is good at two things: lying and masturbating. His talent at the former gets him recruited by the secret police, who want him to tattle on a campus book group. He does, but not well enough, so he gets fired. Undeterred, Batko becomes his very own secret agent, complete with a web of kinky informers and a phony agency, acronymed the Department of SEX. He also learns to etch and falls in love with a young woman with a bad limp.
As writer/producer Vladislav Todorov emphasized during the Q&A, it's the anti-Lives of Others, another movie about what people will tell in order to stay alive another day in an authoritarian police state. Here, people inform willingly, delightfully, with no compunction or hesitation. Intellectuals aren't excluded from scorn simply because they're smart or know a lot about books, and Batko becomes more, not less, debased as the movie goes on. It's absurd, not realist. It's angry, not conciliatory. And, unlike The Lives of Others, The Color of the Chameleon features zero sex scenes. But don't let that stop you from seeing it.